The Gospel, Part 3 — What Does "Gospel Life" Look Like?

“What DOES Gospel Life look like?”

I don’t know. I haven’t seen much of it. I haven’t contributed enough to it. But here’s what my soul longs for . . .

First, I’ve discussed earlier that good behavior, right civic conduct, and the values that most of us agree on are not solely “Christian.” No religion promotes violence toward one’s grandmother, for example, and so we don’t assume good “Christian” behavior when someone instead cares for her elders, or simply refuses to harm them.

But even in a world populated by kindhearted people of many different faiths, and particularly in “Christian-ish” America, things just don’t look very good at all. Someone may have a hard time grasping their own individual sinfulness, but no one can fail to see the tide of evil that regularly washes over our world. Even with millions of committed Christ-disciples in the United States and many millions more throughout the nations, the world is in a vicious, violent mess. Certainly the situation on Earth and in time would improve significantly if all people, regardless of religious faith, or lack thereof, joined together to work to end war, poverty, oppression and the destruction of the environment; again, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on desirable personal and social behavior. But I am a Christian, a Christ-follower, by God’s grace, for almost 30 years, and it’s the failure of the Church, the Body of Christ’s followers, that concerns me the most — because I’m part of it. My behavior will never speak poorly of Islam. I pray it never speak poorly of Christianity.

This isn’t, however, just an in-house message designed for Christians by a Christian who’s dismayed at the failure of Christians to mirror Christ in the world. It’s not intended just for believers, although most of my readers, I’m assuming, are also Christ followers. I pray this is received as not only a call for the kind of societal revolution that Christ wants us to encourage, sustain, and nurture, but also an acknowledgment, a very painful one, that the picture of Christ reflected by his followers, myself included, is often pretty atrocious and rarely even close to pretty.

If the Church were passionate about Christ, consumed by love, and devoted to the Gospel, it wouldn’t share such tremendous responsibility for the rejection of the Christian message among billions throughout the world. Notice that I said “responsible.” No one is accountable for rejecting Christ except for the person who sadly does so, but a Church that tolerates the convenience and privilege of the Christiani-ish and froths and spits with anger against sinners — when it’s not simply ignoring them — is at least partly responsible for presenting to the world a Jesus who isn’t at all appealing. The Gospel should, if truthfully presented, cause offense, and to a certain degree Jesus should, as well — if, for example, you’re an unbeliever who can’t handle the whole “Prince of Peace, turn the other cheek” stuff and searches for a macho savior who kicks ass and hates the same people you do, you’re not going to flock to his message. That condemnation is, tragically, well-deserved, and it’s nobody else’s fault.

But we shouldn’t craft a Gospel with deliberate and unnecessary offense. We cannot, if we’re true to our Lord, construct a “way of salvation” peppered with obstacles and defined by ruts and dead ends, and we can’t delight in having the Gospel offend the kinds of people we really don’t want to spend eternity with anyway. And we absolutely cannot approach people in a way that makes US the offense, and if we do, we will conclude, on Judgment Day, that it’d be preferable to find a millstone, a length of rope, and a sea to dive into. We are never accountable for someone else’s eternal fate, but if the Church felt the proper responsibility to present a true and loving Gospel in true and loving ways, I suspect we’d marvel at the numbers of people who find the Jesus we’re pointing to, and we’d be astonished — pleasantly so — at the transformations that would follow in the home, the Church, and the social/political/economic/environmental world we live in. The New Testament tells us to be ready, to “have an answer” at all times for “the hope that lies within us,” and admonishes us to do it “with gentleness and respect.” We can’t “respect” people outside of the Church if we pray harm on them, say we hate them (often for the same sins we commit as well), and treat them with contempt, mockery, dismissal, and indifference to their suffering.

A Body determined to repent of being Christian-ish and instead be Christ-followers would weep in soul-shaking grief that any human being, anywhere, is ever abused, oppressed, or told they’re worth less than the very heart and blood of Jesus Christ. That Body would recoil in horror if became aware of that sin happening in the name of its Savior. It would run from ANYONE or ANYTHING that promoted bigotry and oppression in Christ’s name — and, at the same time, would run right TO the doorstep of anyone who did so, rebuking them in strength, courage, faith, and righteous anger. If Christians took Jesus seriously, we’d stop admiring people who seem to live pretty clean lives on the outside and whose “internal” sins of lust, contempt, greed, and mistreatment of those near to them we deem none of our business. We’d NEVER look the other way when domestic abuse happens, and we’d hang our collective heads in utter shame that it happens as much in “Christian” homes as it does in others. No pastor would ever tell a woman to “just submit,” would ever counsel exasperated parents to hit their children, and wouldn’t even consider covering up the sins of the prominent among them when those sins are hidden away in the bedroom, the kitchen, and other venues away from discerning, courageous eyes. “Hidden,” “personal” sins have a way of leaking out of their protective shells, poisoning those closest to them and splattering on the image of Christ.

A Church determined to rid itself of those stubbornly clinging vestiges of Christian-ish “traditional moral values” would usher in a gentle revolution in the home. Women would be believed and empowered, not “protected” by the male domination and privilege that is the root of their oppression, or “honored” by the condescending “headship” brought about by a Christian-ish conformity to un-Godly secular social mores like patriarchy rather than conformity to the Word and character of Jesus. Children would be safe; tragically, the “Christian” home can be one of the most dangerous places a child can be. While the Christian home ought to result in nothing other than a haven of peace, creativity, instruction, and rambunctious, abundant love, the home adorned with Christian-ish idols of patriarchy, gender roles, and control will be filled with violence, the wielding of power in hierarchy, inequality, rigidity, and despair for those raised in it.

Sex, sexuality, gender, and relationships would be based in love, not shame; truth, not tales designed to gloss over real-life struggles. The Christian-ish obsession these days with sexual purity before marriage would focus less on courtship and more on friendship, less on strict rules and more on healthy boundaries, less on parental investment in a daughter’s sexuality and more on her confident understanding of her body and her faith in her Lord. A healthy understanding of sexuality, coupled with mutuality in marriage that rejects coercion, manipulation, and power, would go a long way toward reducing the number of abortions in this country and would make an enormous dent in the spread of HIV around the world. Such a transformation is possible, but not if the Church continues to accommodate culture in an understanding of the sexual. It would leave to the Christian-ish the silly fads that worm their way into youth group, men’s group, and women’s group.

Actually, I wonder if a true Christian witness in an unbelieving world would even HAVE men’s groups and women’s groups; perhaps that testimony would introduce to those around it the entirely Christian idea that gender is not the first thing, not the most important thing, and not the lasting thing about a person. Groups of believers would gather together based on common gifts, shared interests, preferred style of Bible study — not by sex. No woman would find her primary identity as “his’s wife,” and no man would find his as CEO of something. The believer would find her or his primary identity as the Beloved of Christ, and nothing would be exalted before that, and not especially under the Christian-ish guise of “family values” or “traditional marriage.” Traditional marriage hasn’t worked out so well for women throughout history, and it’s often been detrimental to men. Betrothal to Christ Jesus, though, can lead to an affirming, mutual, passionate and enduring marriage between a woman and a man, a marriage that would never be a tool to blunt the service or nurture of another believer.

The truly Christ-following Church would be filled with gentle people who disagree about some issues — debating heartily, not heatedly — and would seek to prayerfully recognize what’s truly black-and-white, essential to the Gospel, and what’s gray, a peripheral issue over which believers can simply disagree. I suspect that Church would find considerably more “gray” than the Christian-ish club it’s often supplanted by. Some would believe that homosexual practice is always a sin; others would trust the Lord to guide gays into stable, healthy, monogamous relationships. No child would ever be beaten by his father for being homosexual, and a father who did would be sharply rebuked by other Christians, faithful women and men who protect the abused from the abuser. Likewise, no gay or lesbian person outside of the Church would be beaten by vicious attacks from a pulpit hypocritically adorned with a cross and chalice, and a conservative view of Scripture as it regards homosexual practice would never be a license for the kind of rank homophobia that sullies the Church, wrongly exalts the heterosexuals in it, and encourages, by omission or commission, the mistreatment of any human being — never, and not ever because of their sexuality.

The Bible says all creation groans under the burden of sin, and I see evidence of that suffering all around me in the mistreatment of animals, the destruction of the environment, and the lousy theology that approves of them both. The Church would repent of perhaps one of the most permanently scarring results of its fawning obedience to the culture of greed and exploitation around it — the “redeeming” of natural resources in the appalling, and inexcusably stupid, belief that God wants us to tear through his creation, extract as much as we can as quickly as we can, and call it all good, appropriating one of the most beautiful themes of Scripture, “redemption,” to describe the violence done to the Earth. As followers of him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, a Christ-committed Church would trust science, revere scholarship, and encourage stewardship as caretaking, not rape. Science would not be feared; no truth is apart from God, and no discovery can ever reduce the sovereignty of the God we worship. If, for example, we read of a six-day creation in the Bible, and yet science demonstrates, with seeming irrefutability, that the world is actually millions of years old, we don’t declare war on science and scientists. We don’t give up on the Bible. We instead, confidently and cheerfully, approach the issue with humility: We just simply accept that we don’t know, and can’t know, everything. There’s not a choice here between the truth of Scripture or the truth of science, but instead a third choice — humble awe of a God who, thankfully, is bigger than what we can understand, and gratitude that we’re not actually worshiping a Deity that we can fully “get.”

Lastly, although not exhaustively, this Body of believers who shed the Christian-ish substitute for the Real Thing of Christ, would be known by its determination to be known by its love — for each other and for those on the outside. Even, perhaps especially, for those who hate them. It would gladly share in the sufferings of Christ by entering into the grief and suffering, poverty and despair, of others, seeking out people held in low esteem and eagerly imparting to them a message that shows how greatly they’re esteemed by their Creator. It would hate poverty, not the poor, and it would be laughed at, mocked, pitied, and despised by the rich and powerful and well-connected. It would take up the cause of the despised — the ill, the poor, the prisoner — and gladly endure persecution for the sake of Christ. It would deeply desire the betterment of those around it, hating the idea of injustice and seeking to never benefit from it, horrified and stung by the knowledge that some of us have while vowing, then, to hold all we have in an open hand.

Nothing I ever do, or did, contributes to my salvation. But I love Jesus. I like to give him gifts.

That Church, that living, breathing, loving Body, wouldn’t be liberal. It wouldn’t be conservative. It would read and study the Bible, not idolize it, use it as a missile or a mallet, and not ever dare to suggest that any of us can fully understand (apprehend, master) it. The Word of God would be our toolbox to build roads to Jesus and construct a society that reflects him, and it would be the constant nourishment of the Body. The Church would simply . . . BE, and BE in love for Christ Jesus. Most of all, it wouldn’t be a Church I deserve to be in. The only goal I have in my life is to fill my heart and my hands, my mind and voice, with the things that point to Jesus, whose death and resurrection give me entrance by faith. He requires only faith in him; he enables all things for his sake. In the words of a popular song, “This world has nothing for me, and this world has everything.” To be a Christian is to be in the tension between the Already and the Not Yet, but it can never exist with one foot in the Christian-ish and the other in the sanctuary.

2 Responses to “The Gospel, Part 3 — What Does "Gospel Life" Look Like?”

  1. Ashwin says:

    And you are back to putting your ideology before Christ. This one reads like a leftist rant. Pity. Your last two posts were very good.

    C.S. Lewis said that the person who would use Christ to try to better society is like one who uses the Stairway of Heaven to go to the chemists’. Christ is much more than a social reformer.

  2. I would never want to “use” Christ to better society, Ashwin. I want society to be bettered because of the personal transformation that comes with life in him and brings about right relationships everywhere. By the way, the local postmillennialists want Christian believers’ behavior to transform society, too. They revere C.S. Lewis. Go figure.

    And you might be surprised to know how little regard “leftist” Moscow holds me in. I won’t ever attack non-believers, and yet I still can’t get invited to all the good parties.

    Christ first, always, fully, and transformationally!

    Keely

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